Voidrunner Interview: Scaling Level Design up 300%
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Voidrunner Interview: Scaling Level Design up 300%
13 July, 2015
Interview

Former matte painter Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu, is a Producer and Director at Turkish game development company, RealityArts. He shared his thoughts on using Unreal Engine 4 to build Voidrunner – one of the most epic indie action games in history.

Voidrunner is available at Kickstarter! Please support the developers.

Voidrunner is a speed & reflex flying game targeted for PC/MAC. The game boasts incredibly fast gameplay and fantastic visual design. The title is expected to be completed early 2016. Voidrunner supports Virtual Reality with Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. The project is aimed to be one of the contenders for Unreal Dev Grants and the team is going to launch a campaign on Kickstarter as well. So naturally, 80.lv was interested how a small team of just two people is building this incredible project.

RealityArts

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RealityArts is located in Istanbul, Turkey. We are only two people now but we are planning to hire more if we succeed on Kickstarter. Right now it’s just me and my friend Bahar Baziki. She is more on the producing and art directing side, and I’m more on the designing side. She was in the production & motion picture industry mainly, and I myself was a matte painter who worked on post production & animation industry in Turkey. We worked with most of the Turkish film industry but as for the gaming side, working with big studios or big names is just a dream here really.

We are passionate gamers. Games were always in our dreams, but the overall approach to game development in Turkey (as well as lack of interest in investors) prevented us from entering the gaming industry for years. Turkey grew bigger and bigger over the years and we are a modern society, but the investment side has just started realizing the potential of gaming.

We tried to create an in-house game engine in the early 2000s (because Unreal and Quake (id Tech) engines were very expensive) but we couldn’t find any funds. Right now we are in a different age where we can create a budget without investors, we can sell our game through Steam and we can promote the game via social media. Everything is so different. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s hard, but now we have hope – a hope of making something creative, something different with all the creative freedom you have. And we can do this in the multi million dollars game engines for free now. Isn’t it great?

The Beginning of the Story

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In October 2014, we had just completed an independent feature film and we were preparing it for festivals. Then an old friend of mine told me that Unreal Engine became subscription based. I said, “Yeah… Very funny.” But, well.. It was! Unbelievable. And I found out that it had a visual scripting system so I can create something without the need of a programmer. So I became a subscriber and started to watch the tutorials. It was a shock. I was an old era level designer, in the Quake III era of engines. Now everything was so different and so…easy! The pipeline became so similar with post production industry so I started to play with the engine features immediately. My original plan was to just create a simple, minimalistic, fun flight game with just a couple of levels – just to have fun in free times etc. Well.. the Unreal Engine was so impressive and so easy to use.

I just couldn’t stop myself and after 1.5 months work, we got the Greenlight from Steam in 4 days. So after that, Bahar and I decided to give our full attention to the project. In Bahar’s words, “we started as a snow flake, but it grew and grew so it became an avalanche. An avalanche of dreams.”

Looking for The Game

Voidrunner, UE4, Unreal Engine 4, gamedev, indiedev, game development, large scale levels, 3dart, visual arts, Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu, Bahar Baziki, Unreal Dev Grants, Epic Games,

There wasn’t a particular movie that inspired us, but rather a combination of 28 years of movies, books, games, music and overall cultural experience. It’s all an aroma in our heads. We get inspiration from everything. Life is an experience. Even a smell can make you feel something. From our childhood to our adulthood, we get lots of, you know, moments. Some memories are imprinted to your consciousness. When I first saw an X-Wing flying on the trenches of the Death Star, that was an imprint. When I first heard Vangelis’ impressive score on Conquest of Paradise, it was an imprint. When I read some epic plot in, for example, Wheel of Time series – it was an imprint. Sometimes I listen to a classic score from Jerry Goldsmith and feel something. Sometimes I listen to completely different artists like Murcof or Enigma and I feel different things. And whenever I do something for my mind, it may become an idea in Voidrunner. Of course, most of the time we are limited by our computer specifications but it’s good to dream.

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I experimented a lot while learning the Unreal Engine. When I’m satisfied with the speed, it became more clear of how to approach to level design. Right now the maps in Voidrunner are huge. Everything is scaled up nearly 200 – 300 percent for a default map in Unreal. Maps must be huge, number of model assets must be high and also they must be big because we have very high speed. You pass the environment as soon as you see it, and it means I have to create huge maps to accommodate that speed. We don’t want the levels end in 10 seconds so the design of the levels are the most difficult thing in Voidrunner. They must be detailed like an RPG and they must be huge for you to experience the level in a desired timeframe. That means a lot of computer power is necessary for me as developer, but we can’t compromise quality and be content just because I have an old computer. By the way, all the graphics are coming from a 5 years system that still has NVIDIA GTX470 and a 8 GB RAM.

If we’re talking about the controls, there is still very much to do for it. Still it’s not final. There will be options for more acrobatic movements and also we want to do lots of things gameplay wise. We’ll do them as we continue the development. There will be a system to modify the vehicles as you level up, for example. I encourage our readers to follow us on Facebook as we share everything when new updates arise.

Programming with Blueprint

The Blueprint system of Unreal Engine 4 is the game changer for me. If there wasn’t any system like that, I wouldn’t change my career from visual effects to gaming. Unreal’s Blueprint system makes the perfect game engine for Voidrunner. As I said, Bahar is more on the art directing & producing stuff. So as a designer, Blueprint system gives me the freedom to create something good without coding. We can create a nice game just with ourselves. But we really, really, REALLY want to change this and evolve to a bigger team with the upcoming Kickstarter campaign.

The Epic Level Design

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All levels are created by hand. I experimented with the foliage tool, but didn’t like the results very much. Not because it’s not good, but because I want complete control in my designs. Every rock and every building must look a certain way, from many different point of views. I design the levels by hand so that I can create the panorama I really want, just like creating a matte painting for a movie.

I used GTKRadiant a lot in the old Quake III era and I must say, I started the level design from scratch because everything has changed so much. We are talking about more than a 10 year break from a developer’s perspective. It was such a surprise for me that in the beginning, I really didn’t expect that designing a level in Voidrunner could be so hard.

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Voidrunner is set in the Void. A mythical inter-dimensional space like a Purgatory. Sometimes there is no floor that you can base your design. Sometimes there is no sky. It’s not an ordinary level design process where you block out the whole map in a crude way and start adding details. Those details can be the very heart of the map, so I design the levels in detail from the beginning. I also have to think how the players will move in the level. It’s not like a third person or first person game that you have only some pathways to design. Voidrunner’s levels are big and complicated. There are countless ways a player may fly, and I have to design every path in a way that look nice and interesting. Bahar is my best friend when designing levels. She gives great ideas and insights about the designs, colors, anything you can imagine. The visuals you see are the combination of our skills together.

Bringing The Game Into Virtual Reality

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Unreal Engine 4 is a very VR friendly game engine. It’s becoming better and better in every new version. We have a resolution issue in VR general. We still don’t have the consumer version of Oculus Rift or current version which is Crescent Bay, and Oculus Rift DK II’s resolution is really not that good. Voidrunner can be great in VR but we need better, updated tools to make it work. We still don’t have HTC Vive or Morpheus. Voidrunner is still very early in development. I’m sure we can have a more updated version of VR devices in the near future I think, but we believe Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality is the future. It reflects everything we feel about future and different realities. Voidrunner’s levels are being designed also for VR in our minds as Unreal Engine 4 now supports HTC Vive and Project Morpheus apart from Oculus Rift. We just need them in our hands [laughs].

Sharing Profit with Epic Games

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We still don’t have any funds. No investors & no sponsors. We got the Greenlight from Steam in January and we started to develop the game for better gameplay. We are consuming what we earned so far because we really have high hopes for this project and we believe this is what we want to do. The immersive experiences we get from games is unmatched in any motion picture. We still have some dreams for movies, but our main focus is games and VR. So we took some risks and made the choice to make Voidrunner. We are planning to use Kickstarter soon to get funds. We are also planning to send the project to Epic for Unreal Dev Grants.

In the old days, the license of Unreal Engine would start at a high price and it was impossible for an independent developer to get it. Now it’s free and comes with support from a large community of Unreal developers and Epic Games themselves. Even the creator of the engine, Tim Sweeney, sometimes writes in the forums and gives feedback! Every week there are twitch streams, official tutorials, and the marketplace to trade. Epic also gives thousands of dollars through their Unreal Dev Grants service. Epic frequently updates the Engine and adds great features. There is always someone to help you out at all times, and all I need to give in return for all these benefits is just 5% of my revenue? Take it, please, take it Epic!

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Ismail Kemal Ciftcioglu, RealityArts

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